ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Earlier this month Benton County Division II Circuit Court Judge Brad Karren was caught on video, on a rant, over someone illegally parked in his space at the courthouse. His actions have initiated an investigation by a state judicial panel.
Judge Karren has been investigated by Arkansas’ Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission (JDDC) twice before. The investigations resulted in letters of reprimand for the judge in April 2012 and both investigations involved violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. One case involved the judge giving preferential treatment to an employee whose child was in juvenile detention.
The other case involved the arrest of a man whose father called the judge and asked him to represent his son. Karren declined because he was a full-time judge in the Rogers District. But, Karren did take other actions to help the man. He held an immediate bond hearing for the son, even though he was not assigned bond hearings on that day, and he set low bail for the man, angering the victim’s family.
The University of Arkansas School of Law Professor Howard Brill said that over the past 30 years the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission has admonished and disciplined judges for their conduct off the bench.
Professor Brill weighed in about Judge Karren and that actions by a judge, at all times, are important.
The Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct provides: Rule 1.2 – Promoting Confidence In The Judiciary
A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by improper conduct and conduct that creates the appearance of impropriety. Professor Brill said, “this principle applies to both the professional and personal conduct of a judge. A judge should expect to be the subject of public scrutiny that might be viewed as burdensome if applied to other citizens, and must accept the restrictions imposed by the Code.”
Conduct that compromises or appears to compromise the independence, integrity, and impartiality of a judge undermines public confidence in the judiciary. “Because it is not practicable to list all such conduct, the Rule is necessarily cast in general terms,” said Professor Brill.
The Code, the Rules, and the Comments were adopted by the Supreme Court; effective July 1, 2009. Previous versions of the code had been adopted in 1973 and 1993.
Other judges who have been investigated by the JDDC
Most recently, in May 2020, the JDDC announced the resignation of Randolph County District Court Judge John Throesch. The JDDC investigation found he violated eight judicial rules involving criminal cases. The former judge is permanently disqualified from holding further judicial office. Throesch had served as a judge since 2001.
A letter of resignation and removal was issued by the JDDC for Carroll County part-time Judge Tim Parker in January 2017. The allegations against Parker were from 2013 to 2016 that involved unethical behavior when it came to personal relationships with (mostly) young women who were jailed. Parker previously served as Municipal Court Judge from 1999-2004 in Eureka Springs. The six-page report is below.
Izard County District Court Judge Steven D. Lawrence resigned in January 2002 because of a felony drug arrest. Lawrence was also a pharmacist working in Mountain View. An audit of the pharmacy revealed that approximately 25,000 prescription drug pills were missing with a value of about $7,500. Lawrence was subsequently arrested and charged with the theft of those drugs. Lawrence agreed to never serve in the Arkansas judiciary, according to court documents.
The JDDC’s has issued approximately 140 reprimands to judges in the past 30 years (1990-2020), according to its website. The most common actions by the JDDC were admonition letters. Other investigations, for example, ended with suspension of pay, censure, and resignations.
- Seven justices are on the Arkansas Supreme Court and they serve for eight years.
- Twelve judges are on the state’s Court of Appeals and they are elected to eight-year terms.
- Arkansas has a bit more than 120 judges on Circuit Courts, and each is elected to terms of six years. There are 28 judicial circuits.
- There are 32 State District Court Judicial Districts in 54 counties. Fifty-five judges serve. The Local District Courts have 37 part-time judges in 35 counties, as of July 2019 according to the Arkansas Judiciary website.
- There are 70 City Court judges in 90+ locations. These are trial courts that handle city ordinance violations.
To serve on the bench a judge must be a U.S. citizen, at least 28 years old, of “good moral character,” a state resident for at least two years, and have practiced law for at least six years, according to Ballotpedia.